Photographic representation of women in the media online

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Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies Special Issue ? January 2013

Photographic Representation of Women in the Media A Case Study of the Post

Deseni Soobben, Durban University of Technology, South Africa

Abstract The under-representation of women in the media has been contested by gender activists the world over (Carter & Steinder, 2004, p. 15). Studies have indicated that women are more likely to be portrayed on advertising bill-boards than as serious news sources. Therein lies the problem. Saturated by the media, visual representation becomes a means of how to make sense of the world. If women are continually portrayed in a narrow range of roles and particularly as second-class citizens, does that not shape one's understanding of the world? More importantly, how do the women rise above that status? Being a photographer of Indian descent, the subject was of particular interest to the researcher. This paper examines the theories underpinning representation, in particular, identity, gender and the selection and production of photographs. Based on the above data, the Post, a national newspaper targeted at the South African Indian population, was selected as a case study. A select population of the staff at the Post was interviewed. The empirical research specifically examines the selection and production of photographs in the Post. Based on the literature and empirical data, the study maintains that there are many challenges facing the media, specifically relating to the visual representation of women. Based on the findings, the paper offers recommendations that may assist in improving techniques in the photographic process of composing, selecting and producing photographs in the Post.

Keywords: visual representation, gender, identity, journalism

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Introduction: The problem and its setting This study focuses on the photographic representation of women in the Post. It, therefore, sets out to observe the factors that are considered during the various stages of the photographic process. In brief, this study sets out to explore how women are represented in the print media, in particular the Post. In order to solve this research problem, the following objectives were set: (i) To review and critique the literature that informs current theories of representation and media selection and production; and (ii) To conduct empirical research with staff at the Post. The emphasis, however, is on the photographic processes and techniques used when photographing women. Empirical research within Post will reveal the factors that are considered during the various photographic processes, namely: Composition; Selection; and Production.

For many decades, women have appeared in a narrow range of roles and were often portrayed in the media as second class citizens. According to McQuail (2002, p. 101), media messages were seen as "stereotyped and carrying a predominantly patriarchal and conservative ideology or pandered to male sexuality". The images generated by the media give one the impression that women are more valued for their `down-to-earth' approach, other than viewed as an appendage to the male counterpart in the story. The researcher is concerned with the manner in which women are portrayed through photographs in the print media. What must be taken into account is that photography is merely an instrument of representation. By examining the "representational paradigm in more detail we can focus more closely on the condition of photographic production, the social context in which the work was created" (Hamilton, 1997, p. 79).

Of particular interest to this study is the Post, a weekly national newspaper targeted at a predominately Indian audience. Photographs published on the front page of selected editions of the Post will be the primary area of research. The process and production of images as well as editing and lay-out will be analysed through interviews with reporters, photographers sand sub-editors. The study will attempt to investigate if women are portrayed as decorative add-ons or serious and valued role-players in society. Gender stereotypes are often embedded in all types of visual images, particularly in photographs, on billboards, and television

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Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies Special Issue ? January 2013

(Seidman, 2002, p. 94). While gender identity is constructed in many contexts, the study will attempt to examine how the Post constructs gender images and identity. The image of women can change by the way a page is designed. There are various processes that can severely censor an image, for example: cropping, enlarging and highlighting often play an important part in the way the readers interpret or make sense of it. The photographic process of composition, including the use of lighting, varied apertures, filters, different lenses and editing, for example, cropping, enlarging, highlighting and darkening will be analysed. These processes change the meaning of photographs. Hamilton (1997, p. 86) refers to the photographic process as a "double process of construction". The first part of the construction is the composition, selection and framing of the images. What follows in the second process is textual information, in other words, reports and captions accompanying the photographs. Media practitioners draw upon their own experiences and ideas regarding male and female persons, particularly "about gender roles and behaviour; about how women and men act and think; and also our beliefs about people's physical appearance, even their body shapes" (Seidman, 2002, p. 94).

Creative director and executive director of The Star, Dave Hazelhurst, stresses the importance of women in positions of decision making, without which, he argues "there can be no real change, and, consequently, design can only have negative gender implications" (2002, p. 110). According to Hazelhurst (2002, p. 110), "nothing sets the tone of paper more than pictures" and "everyone is involved ? news editors, reporters, copy-tasters, editors, layoutsubs, picture editors and copy-subs". It seems therefore, that editors and sub-editors do have a choice in the portrayal of women. It appears that women portrayed in the front pages of the Post seem conservative in demeanour, frequently perceived as an appendage to their husbands, almost as an add-on and not a `stand alone'. I believe the Post could do well to address these injustices. It is within this context that this paper sets out to examine the representation of women in the print media.

The initial stage of the photographic process is the composition of a photograph. The photographer demonstrates the factors that are considered during the composition of a photograph. The second stage of the photographic process is the selection of the photograph. The sub-editor is tasked with this process. The sub-editor will illustrate what factors are considered when selecting a photograph. The final stage of the photographic process is the

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Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies Special Issue ? January 2013

production of the photograph. The result is the production of the image on the printed page. Based on the findings from the literature review and the empirical investigation, the paper offers recommendations.

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Online Journal of Communication and Media Technologies Special Issue ? January 2013

Media Selection and Production of Photographs in The Post

The act of representation is an ancient practice. It has always been part of mankind's social practice, from sophisticated cave paintings and carvings to intricate jewellery. Whilst representation was previously restricted to art galleries and places of worship, the physical and technical production of representations was revolutionized in the late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century. It was the photographic camera that led to this transformation. Visual representations are now on display on buses, buildings, bill boards, and lamp-posts and in shopping malls (Reid, 2008, p. 208). In fact, for most people in the western and developing world, life is saturated with visual images and representations. It is, after all, how we communicate with one another and, more importantly, make sense of the world. Williams (2003, p. 121) maintains that audiences have learnt to actively filter such masses of representations on a constant basis in order to try to receive only those meanings which were important to them. If this is the case, are women, in general, aware of how they are represented in the media? The researcher finds it necessary to explore ways in which the South African media report and re-present the social world in order to examine the impact of the media on their audiences. The case study is the Post, a national weekly newspaper. In the past, the media in South Africa was under tremendous strain as society was polarized and unequal. The South African media had to contend with social, political and economical conditions in a country with disparaging proportions. Understandably, the subject of gender representations did not seem to be a priority in the media and women of colour were particularly at a disadvantage. However, since democratization, gender representation in the South African media has received considerable attention.

The origins of the Post The Post has been in operation since 1960. Launched as Golden City POST by Sir Jim Bailey in 1955, it set off at a time when the apartheid ideology was just beginning to tighten its grip on society (Howard, 2005, p. 3). The Post highlighted the political struggle and made mockery of laws like the Immorality Act, the Mixed Marriages Act and the Group Areas Act. It also highlighted bannings, house arrests and imprisonment of political leaders, the battle to get South Africa expelled from world sport, and the birth of the Black Consciousness Movement". It led to the change of the Post's slogan from "paper for the people" to the "voice and heart of the community". In fact, the Post is the biggest-selling weekly newspaper

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serving the Indian Diaspora in South Africa. It expresses the views, fears, threats and aspirations of the Indian community. The Consul General of India, emphasizes the role of the Post as it also helps sustain the historical linkages between India and South Africa. In doing so, the newspaper has helped the local Indian community in preserving and maintaining its cultural heritage and traditions. According to Swarup, the Post has been a forerunner in the struggle against colonialism, imperialism, inequality and racial discrimination. It has helped the community in preserving and maintaining its cultural heritage and traditions (Swarup, 2005, p. 5).

However, the democratic era of the 1990s soon changed the perceptions that Indians were a homogeneous group. There was a "resurgence of ethnic and sub-ethnic identities (class, language, religion, geographic origins)" (Maharaj, 2007, p. 19). Today, while the older generation upholds the values and traditions of their fore-fathers, the younger generation is quite often modern and westernized, in thinking and in dress. Herein lies the dichotomy. The Post upholds the values and traditions of the Indian culture, however, is it possible that it does have a fixed notion of what an Indian woman ought to be like? Meanings, therefore, will always change, from one culture or period to another (Hall, 1997, p. 61). Has the Post adjusted its stance in its representation of women and forged ahead with the modern times, or has it lagged behind? The main thrust of the argument is, how are women represented through photographs in the Post? Is the Post bound to the traditional and cultural views of the past? Of significance are the photographic images of women in the Post. Visual signs and images carry meaning and, therefore, have to be interpreted (Hall, 1997, p. 21). After all, meaning is produced through representation. However, photographs are nearly always constructed within a social context. Of particular interest to the research, is to ascertain how women are photographed and portrayed in the Post. The researcher aims to examine the process of photographic production and the social context by which it was created (Hamilton, 1997, p. 79). Posed questions, will give the researcher an indication of how the Post production team, made up of reporters, photographers and sub-editors, select, process and produce photographic images

Media selection and production

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